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Old April 22nd, 2016, 02:41 AM   #1
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White balance in low light environment

I was at a performance in a fairly large, custom-built theatre yesterday. There was a designated position for filming at the back, complete with audio feeds (that they couldn't get to work). I was unable to get a manual white balance so I went down to the stage and did it there. My question is this fairly normal? I wouldn't be able to do this once the show has started, so is there a better method?
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Old April 22nd, 2016, 02:53 AM   #2
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Re: White balance in low light environment

Are there no rehearsals where you have the time to talk to the light technicians and get a whitebalance reading that you can use once the main show starts? That's how I would do it, if you only show up the day of the show there usually is no time for testing anymore.
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Old April 22nd, 2016, 10:04 AM   #3
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Re: White balance in low light environment

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I was at a performance in a fairly large, custom-built theatre yesterday. There was a designated position for filming at the back, complete with audio feeds (that they couldn't get to work). I was unable to get a manual white balance so I went down to the stage and did it there. My question is this fairly normal? I wouldn't be able to do this once the show has started, so is there a better method?
We normally set the white balance to 3.2k and tweak it afterwards if needed in post. The actual balance will vary depending on the lighting design anyway, so your manual set will only really work if the lighting is consistent.
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Old April 22nd, 2016, 11:10 PM   #4
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Re: White balance in low light environment

I use same method as Dan, tungsten/incandesent preset of 3200. The standard white light that lights the actors face is yellowish. Keep in mind theatrical performances intentionally change colors. For example if you film the Nutcracker, Land of Snow is light in blue so it should look blue. You don't try to undo what the lighting designer has created.
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Old April 23rd, 2016, 12:13 AM   #5
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Re: White balance in low light environment

Just wanted to add a +1 to the idea that I use a fixed 3200K WB. Also wanted to ring in that if you see XLR drops for your use, rest assured that 1) they don't work and 2) even if they did no one will know how to use them.
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Old April 23rd, 2016, 01:10 AM   #6
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Re: White balance in low light environment

I wouldn't be so certain that 3200k will always be a the best option, that's why going to the rehearsals is so important.

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Also wanted to ring in that if you see XLR drops for your use, rest assured that 1) they don't work and 2) even if they did no one will know how to use them.
If you have to work for a bunch of amateurs then that can happen but if you show up at the rehearsals and test that it works and at the day of the show be on time and ask the technician to play some music so can verify it still works then I wouldn't see why it would not work. And otherwise just ask for a free output from the mixer and plugin a tascam dr40 or something like that. If you go home with no sound it just means you where uprepared.

Last edited by Noa Put; April 23rd, 2016 at 02:33 AM. Reason: zpelling
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Old April 23rd, 2016, 02:05 AM   #7
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Re: White balance in low light environment

3200 might not be the perfect balance but it will almost certainly be better than say 5600. I've shot theatre in all its forms as a stills photographer for over 25 years and up until a few years ago cameras were always used with tungsten balanced film and then a tungsten balance once digital came along. "Open white" in theatre lighting is a tungsten lantern with no gel in front of it. That is of course very yellow so a daylight balance would look really horrible. Of course most lights are gelled to some degree but a lot of them are still much nearer to a tungsten balance. However follow spots are hmi and so daylight balanced and will appear blue in your tungsten balance but setting your balance to daylight will render everything else horribly warm.
It's an impossible situation to deal with but I would still go with a tungsten balance. It's made even more complicated by the rise of led's. They generally have pretty low cri compared to led's we would buy so are very green. I see it all the time now in my stills and it's often impossible to correct skin tones. These days in my stills I use auto white balance because for me that is more successful than setting a set balance in the theatre. I shoot raw so I can change the balance at will.
I have started to video shows now as well and so far I have set a tungsten balance quite successfully. If I had to shoot a large scale ballet company I'm not sure how good that would look however as they use daylight hmi follow spots anytime a principal is on stage.
Attending rehearsals beforehand is often impossible for many reasons. Companies often are in technical rehearsal and nobody actually sees the overall lighting until the dress that you might be filming. I have done 100's of shoots where they are still lighting 'over' the rehearsal so it's changing before your eyes.
So far I record my own sound for the shows I have done. I took a feed off a sound desk for one show but still recorded it myself which was good because they forgot to switch it back in for 5 minutes after the interval! I can imagine plenty of scenarios where it would be impossible to record your own sound though. I would always take my own equipment though just in case.

Kind regards. Patrick
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Old April 23rd, 2016, 05:16 AM   #8
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Re: White balance in low light environment

Thanks for all of your kind replies. I did set the white balance in rehearsals but this is the first situation where I was unable to do it manually from the camera position and that's what threw me a bit. I'll give the tungsten setting a try next time and correct it in post. It was Willy Wonka, so there were some pretty strange face colouring anyway.
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Old April 23rd, 2016, 06:46 AM   #9
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Re: White balance in low light environment

There is no point whatsoever doing a white balance in theatrical light. 90% of our work is theatrical and there is no white in their vocabulary that has a proper figure. I'll explain.

Most UK theatres have a lighting inventory of pretty generic kit. Using the theatre that I run in the summer as an example, we have some kit from the 70s that has a colour temperature of 2900/3000, some more is 3200, and then we have modern kit with white at 5600 or over. These are all in the rig. In theatre as opposed to music, it's common for the house rig to be in two colours, warm and cool. Essentially, a very light blue for cool, and a more straw/pink colour for warm. Only 'specials' will be open white. The lighting tends to be focussed in areas, so as a person walks across the stage, moving from area to area, their colour will change. If the production has more flashy flashy sections then colours will vary from medium saturated colours - red/pink/blue/ambers to fully saturated LED light in RGBCMY and others.

So what is white? Probably the only source of a stage wide white is the working light they turn off during the performance. If they use follow spots, these can be a source to adjust to, as they will be the only constant in your face light. These will almost certainly be 5600, or more commonly now 6000 - very blue. In theatre's it also the case that hardly anything on the stage is white -so it's going to be the odd shirt, or hankie, or frilly bit.

Look at the light sources, and set your cameras to a preset. I pick 3000 most of the time, unless there's an awful lot of LED specials or followspots. with multiple cameras, all I'm worried about is consistency between them. After all, what's the point of white balancing when each scene or number will be different. They also have a habit of not running their lights at full. So the nice 3200 source at half power becomes very red!

In an office, or outside white balance is critical, but a theatre? If you try to white balance from the rear of the auditorium, how big would the card need to be to fill the frame? I bet you don't have one that big anyway!

One thing that always happens is that video is an afterthought, and not built into the plan - and to be fair, the video quote wasn't based around extra hours shooting and fiddling during rehearsals? As I have a number of hats to wear - lighting, sound and video all come under what I do, the critical thing to establish at the first informal chats, is what is the primary audience? The video or the perhaps paying punters? If it's the audience, then all those deep blue stages so commonly asked for now with LEDs will annoy the cameraman, who would rather have more white in it. If the punters in the audience are the primary target, then the show gets lit for them. If it's perhaps profits from the video that are the drive, then the audience get the worse lighting - and when we do these shows you MUST give the lighting designer/or operator a monitor, so they can see what the camera sees. Then they will build their lighting around what the camera can cope with. Keep in mind to the eye, the stage may well look odd, flat and washed out.

If you don't do this until the day, when the video guys turn up, you get friction. Taps on the shoulder - can you not use that blue light, I can't focus properly? The answer will be no (or perhaps a promise to see if they can do something, which they won't). Same applies to sound. Asking for a feed in advance is no problem at all. Asking for it when they've set the levels, completed their routing and put the faders in their correct places will be a "I'll try" request.

It sounds simple - but working in theatres lets me do this stuff every week. Like the patch panel. To patch the audio desk to a certain socket in the building is perfectly possible - and many newer venues have these patch panels all over the place = BUT the actual patch bay the other end is often in some central and awkward position that needs two people to implement with walkie talkies. Up four flights of stairs, into a room frequently filled with storage junk to discover D23 cannot be reached with the only short patch cable left is a real pain - unless they have twenty minutes spare. Asked for in advance is a doddle - asked for on the day, less so. It's common for the person you ask to say it doesn't work, rather than find the time to do it. Often, the 'right' person won't be in today - excuses, but understandable ones. Far too often, the venue is not even told about the video. Wandering in half an hour before the house opens, asking for lighting states and patching doesn't make you popular. Normally, they receive technical riders that detail all this stuff. amateur productions are only interested in how many clothes rails there are!
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Old April 23rd, 2016, 06:50 AM   #10
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Re: White balance in low light environment

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If you try to white balance from the rear of the auditorium, how big would the card need to be to fill the frame? I bet you don't have one that big anyway!
If you use a expodisc you can do it the other way round, stand on the stage and point towards the lightsource, ofcourse not while the show is in progress :)
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Old April 23rd, 2016, 03:05 PM   #11
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Re: White balance in low light environment

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If you have to work for a bunch of amateurs then that can happen but if you show up at the rehearsals and test that it works and at the day of the show be on time and ask the technician to play some music so can verify it still works then I wouldn't see why it would not work. And otherwise just ask for a free output from the mixer and plugin a tascam dr40 or something like that. If you go home with no sound it just means you where uprepared.
I've shot events with three sitting US presidents, and a thousand other events of various nature. While it's obviously an exaggeration that I've never had an XLR drop that worked, three out of three presidential pressers had a mult box with a ground loop, that was under or over driven, or didn't work at all. I shot two press conferences last week, one that had a non-powered mult box (and you know how well those work) and one with no mult box at all. Six TV stations and me all hung a wireless lav on the podium. That'll make your glass podium look great. Two weeks ago I shot a presentation in a brand new (less than 6 months old) 20 story class A office building in the ground floor presentation space with all kinds of state-of-the-art a/v equipment. The guy operated the whole thing with an iPad. The one audio drop when cranked all the way up put out about -60db. You could *almost* hear the mic over the hum. After all that, the drop was two rooms away in a hallway. Why anyone would ever use it there, I'm not sure. But I'm sure there's an architect with a new yacht who picked that location.
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Old April 23rd, 2016, 05:09 PM   #12
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Re: White balance in low light environment

I must have been Lucky so far not to be dealing with those kind of issues but I only shoot small theater performances and they always have been helpfull during the rehearsals in securing my audio needs and no, I am not those kind of videographers that shows up the day of the live performance and walks up to the sound technician saying "I need a audio feed". That is discussed when I get booked with the client who hires and pays me and everything I need is allready arranged when I arrive at a performance and there always is time made available to test.
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Old May 2nd, 2016, 11:50 AM   #13
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Re: White balance in low light environment

I typically use AWB. Good enough for the stuff I do.

Also regarding audio drops and feeds.... 16 years filming where these have been available... never had one work. Either too hot, or just no signal. Crazy.

-- Side note --

Filmed my first of 4 dance recitals this year on Thursday.

Brand spanking new custom built theater (at a public school that specializes in the arts), waaaaaay nice sound system, state of the art lighting and computer controls etc. Very expensive looking control room.

But, not a single spot to set up a video camera to record any performances from a "center" position... which of course is kind of important for recitals. I had to mange to cram my tripods into the kind of top rear center aisle seating area.

Good times. lol
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Old May 2nd, 2016, 12:22 PM   #14
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Re: White balance in low light environment

I do multi-camera stage events (dance recitals/plays) and always set all camera WB to the Indoor/Incandescent setting. That provides a decent baseline, and all cameras will match, and any tweaks can be done in post.

I shot a school play yesterday and lighting was bright, dark, blue, you name it, changing scene to scene. I got home and edited the footage and it all looked "correct". The scene that was blue on the stage was blue on the recording ;-)

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